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Jax Pavan could be the last Jedi left alive. Knowing this, he embarks on an insanely dangerous mission that brings him face to face with Darth Vader.
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The Emperor’s ruthless Order 66 has all but exterminated the Jedi. The few remaining who still wield the Force for good have been driven into exile or hiding. But not Jax Pavan, who’s been steadily striking blows against the Empire—as a lone guerrilla fighter and a valued partner of Whiplash, a secret Coruscant-based resistance group. Now he’s taking on his most critical mission: transporting a valued Whiplash leader, targeted for assassination, from Coruscant to safety on a distant world. It’s a risky move under any circumstances, but Jax and his trusted crew aboard the Far Ranger, including the irrepressible droid I-Five, are prepared to pit their combat skills and their vessel’s firepower against all Imperial threats—except the one Jax fears most. Reports have raced across the galaxy that the dark lord of the Sith has fallen in a duel to the death with a Rebel freedom fighter. But Jax discovers the chilling truth when he reaches out with the Force . . . only to touch the dark, unmistakable, and malignantly alive presence that is Darth Vader. And Jax knows that Vader will stop at nothing until the last Jedi has fallen.
(From Chapter One)
In the months since their last confrontation with the Dark Lord—a confrontation in which one of their Whiplash team had betrayed them and another self-immolated trying to assassinate Vader—they had heard not even a whisper about either his whereabouts or his condition. There had been no reports on the HoloNet, no rumors from highly placed officials, no speculation or stories by various life-forms in places like the Blackpit Slums or the Southern Underground. It was as if the very concept of Vader had vanished along with his corporeal form.
And yet Jax still couldn’t believe that his nemesis was dead, as much as he wanted to. The entire scenario had been too perfect. In the thrall of a potent drug that enhanced Force abilities in unpredictable ways, Vader had lashed out wildly, trying to fend off his would-be assassin. The release of energy had been enough to vaporize the unfortunate Haninum Tyk Rhinann, who’d pushed Vader over the edge—in more ways than one. Both of them had fallen a great distance. Rhinann had died.
Vader had vanished.
If Darth Vader had been a normal human being—or even a normal Jedi—Jax could assume he was dead, as well. But he was neither of those things. He was at once less and more than human. At once less and more than a Jedi. He was a powerful merger of the human and the inhuman. He was a Sith . . . who had once called Jax friend. For Jax suspected—no, more than suspected, knew—that Darth Vader had somehow once been Anakin Skywalker. He had sensed it through the Force, and in their last encounter Vader had confirmed it with a slip of the tongue that might well have been intentional.
The man who wouldn’t die.
“You going to share that load with us, Jax?” Den was looking at him with eyes that only seemed lazy. “Have you sensed anything about Vader since . . .” The Sullustan made a boom gesture with both stubby-fingered hands.
Jax shook his head. “Nothing. But Den, if he’d died, I think I’d know that. There would have been a huge shift in the Force if a being of that much focused power was destroyed.”
“I saw the flaming backwash from ground zero,” Den objected. “That wasn’t a shift?”
“No, that was a light show. Mostly flash, with a little substance. It was enough to kill Rhinann. But I don’t think it killed Vader.”
The Sullustan looked to Laranth. “No joy from you, either?”
“Sorry, Den. I’m of the same opinion. He might be severely injured and in a bacta tank somewhere, but he’s not dead. The most we can hope for is that he’ll be out of commission long enough for us to get Yimmon to safety.”
“You just came from Yimmon, didn’t you?” Jax asked Den, and at the Sullustan’s nod, he added, “How does he seem?”
Den shrugged. “About like you’d expect a guy to seem who’s been nearly dead four times in the last three weeks.”
Jax took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Those near-hits were why they were removing Thi Xon Yimmon from Coruscant. The leader of the anti-Imperial resistance cell known locally as Whiplash had been targeted a number of times in the past weeks by Imperial forces. In two cases, only the fact that Jax and his team had a friend on the police force—a Zabrak prefect named Pol Haus—had tipped them to the threat in time to avoid it.
In a twisted way, the Imperial attention to Whiplash—and Yimmon in particular—was flattering. It meant they had risen from mere annoyances to serious threats. Perhaps the Empire had even made the connection between the local resistance on Imperial Center and the broader movement that was springing up on a growing number of far-flung worlds. In practical terms, this meant that—over the last several months—the Imperial orders had gone from “shoot ’em if they get in the way” to “ferret them out, track them down, and destroy them.”
The Emperor had also changed tactics. Absent from these recent attempts at annihilation were the Force-sniffing, raptorlike Inquisitors. Now the attacks came from Force-insensitive bounty hunters and battle droids. It was as if, having failed to turn the gifts of the Force against Yimmon and his cohort, the Emperor was simply throwing every mundane weapon in his arsenal at them.
Jax wanted to believe that these were the acts of a desperate tyrant who had just lost his most potent weapon. He wanted to believe it as much as he wanted to believe that Vader was gone...